Do I Need a Distortion Pedal?

Do I Need a Distortion Pedal?

Guitar players often ask themselves, “Do I need a distortion pedal?”. The answer to this question is not a simple one.  There are many factors that go into answering this question such as the type of guitar you’re playing and what you want to sound like.

If you’re simply looking for an amp with distortion built-in or if your favorite guitarist doesn’t use distortion pedals, then no, you don’t need them. But there are cases where they will be necessary in order to achieve the sound that you desire.

If your amp has poor tone quality or lacks versatility in its controls and settings, a pedal may be needed in order to get the desired sound levels from it. A distortion pedal can also give off more aggressive tones than many guitar amps, such as the solid-state type.

Simply put, a distortion pedal is a guitar effect that changes the sound of an electric guitar. It does this by boosting the treble frequencies and cutting out some of the bass, giving it a “fuzzy” or “growly” tone that sounds great when playing rock and songs.

When you’re playing guitar, sometimes the sound just isn’t coming out right. When you’re trying to play a solo and your notes are getting drowned out by the chords being played in the background, it’s time for a distortion pedal!

Distortion pedals give your guitar that extra edge with their crunchy sounds. Just like hard rock, metal, and classic rock music such as Led Zeppelin, Metallica, or Pantera, distortion pedals can be an essential part of your favorite songs. 

Not only does using a distortion pedal add a ton of crunchy flavor to your guitar’s tone, but most pedals on the market today are extremely affordable. 

Are Distortion Pedals Better Than Amp Distortion?

The answer to this question is not an easy one, as it really depends on personal preference and what type of sound you are trying to create. Distortion pedals have the advantage of being more customizable than a regular guitar amp.

However, it depends on what type of guitar amp you are using. For example, if you’re using a regular solid-state amp with limited bells and whistles, you may be better off adding a distortion pedal to your rig.

Many solid-state amps on the market today have built-in effects and amp modeling features that have the potential to create better distortion than a pedal might.

If you are using a tube amp, then it likely has some pretty sweet distortion already available without the need to add pedals. We’ll talk more about tube amp distortion below.

How To Get Distortion Without Using a Pedal

The following method is the easiest way to get some distortion without having to use a pedal. Note that this will not work for all types of setups, but it usually will for a basic amp and guitar setup.

The first thing you’ll want to do is to turn down the master volume of your amplifier. In fact, do yourself a favor and just shut off your guitar amp for now. This will eliminate any unwanted feedback. You’ll turn it back on later when you have the right settings. 

Next, you’ll want to turn the gain dials to the desired level. The higher you set it at, the more distortion you will likely have. Some amps also have a gain switch that you press. Make sure it is on.

Now, turn the volume dial on your guitar as high as you desire. Most guitars have a volume knob for each pickup. This is especially common for Stratocasters.

Finally, make sure your bridge pickup selector is on the furthest notch possible. You may have to experiment with this a little. And now while the master volume is still low, turn on your amp if you turned it off in the beginning.

Now, begin increasing the master volume until you are at a level of sound that you are comfortable in. If you live with other people, I would advise against turning it up too quickly.

You may have to adjust some of these settings depending upon the quality and type of guitar amp that you are using. It also depends on the type of guitar you’re using. Some guitars have some advanced features that go beyond the scope of this guide.

Do I Need Both Overdrive and Distortion?

Depending on what type of music you are creating, it may be necessary to use both overdrive and distortion. But most of the time, you should be able to get away with one or the other. 

For example, if you are into playing metal or hard rock of any kind, then it’s a great idea to have a distortion pedal added to your collection since those types of music tend to have “grittier, crunchier” tones.

If you mostly are into playing blues, country music, jazz, or any of the softer varieties of music, then a basic overdrive pedal will probably be sufficient enough to get the sound you’re looking for. 

My suggestion would be to experiment with both types since each pedal type has its own levels of grittiness. Besides, pedals are just plain fun to mess around with so why not add more to your collection. 

Do You Need a Distortion Pedal With a Tube Amp?

Tube amps have the ultimate advantage when it comes to creating a distorted tone, and because of this, many guitarists find that they really don’t need to add a distortion pedal to their tube amp.

With that being said, guitar pedals of all types will still work great in conjunction with a tube amp. In fact, the infamous Tube Screamer overdrive pedal is primarily made to be used with tube-style amplifiers. 

Using a distortion pedal with a tube amp can also allow you to make some unique crunchy tones and really tweak in a particular style if you’re into experimenting with different distorted sounds. 

Guitarist and lead singer, Billy Corgan, did this for some of the early Smashing Pumpkins albums, in which he used a Stratocaster, a Big Muff pedal, and a Marshall JCM800 tube amp.

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I love playing around with various types of guitar gear so I started this website to share my guitar gear knowledge with the world. Enjoy!

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